Classic Car Owners Road Trip to Downtown Skokie

August 19, 2010

Text and photos by Ted Regencia

SKOKIE, Ill — Downtown Skokie is vrooming with activity. It’s the third Wednesday of the month, and the summer-long Cruise the Backlot car show is back.

Traffic slows down at the corner of Oakton Street and Lincoln Avenue, as a steady stream of classic cars heads for the Village Green near the library.

Near the Oakton entrance, Frank Smith of Niles chats with a woman who is admiring his 1912 Model T Ford, a touring car and the oldest in the show.

On the opposite side, a 20-year-old collector, who wants to be identified only by her first name, Kirkie, is busy polishing her 1931 Ford Model A, a gift from her parents.

As the crowd grows, Randy Miles, owner of the Village Inn, sets up an outdoor stand for his popular deep dish pizza. While country and rock tunes blare in the background, the vroom-vrooming of Corvettes and Chevys occasionally competes to drown out the music.

Welcome to summer afternoons in Skokie.

Miles, president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie, says the annual exhibit is part of the group’s efforts to “bring people downtown” and spur business activity.

“This is more of a community event, where we have the local downtown merchants selling goods and services,” he said, noting that participants and spectators can patronize nearby shops and restaurants.

Among the car exhibitors is Chuck Friedlander, who explained that General Motors made about 2,200 of his 1965 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible, making it a rare find.

“It’s really an awesome, really cool car,” he said, beaming with pride. “I only know of one other of this condition or better still around in the world.”

The longtime Skokie resident jokingly says he has been a muscle car collector “ever since I was dropped on my head as a baby,” as he recites car trivias at a rapid-fire rate.

“I’m out of control; I need to go to a meeting,” he said laughing about owning 24 muscle cars.

Friedlander says he is afraid to take any of his cars on road trips because “I’m a worrywart. I’d probably take a rented car on a road trip, so I would not have to worry about it.”

Not too far away, George Savvakis of Lincolnwood looks with satisfaction at his 1954 Jaguar XK 120 convertible. Growing up on the Greek island of Ikaria, he developed his passion for cars.

“When I was a little boy on the Greek island and I saw it [a car] in the magazine, I got really interested,” said Savvakis, whose collection also includes a 1961 Jaguar Model 2 and two Lincoln Continentals.

Savvakis acknowledges he gets lots of attention, “especially the ladies,” when driving his red Jaguar.

The car enthusiast came to the exhibit with a fellow Jaguar groupie, Paul Calhoun, who drives a 1956 XK 140 convertible. At home, Calhoun has four more Jaguars of similar make.

Savvakis and Calhoun said they were two of the original participants when Cruise the Backlot started three years ago.

Miles says his non-profit organization is working “on growing the show.”

“Eventually, what we would like to do is line the streets up and down Oakton and Lincoln, with classic and antique cars, so people would be able to walk through [patronizing] the merchants and walk through the streets to see the cars.”

Matt Conrad and his young family roams around admiring the cars.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s good to see everyone of all ages around and having fun outside.”

Adds new Skokie resident Melissa Ponce, “Oh, I love this kind of events. I like old cars.”

She said she and her husband Ola Oluga and son Nathan moved to Skokie five months ago because of the school system.

“I enjoy it; they have a lot of things to do, especially for families,” Ponce said.

Cruise the Backlot concludes this summer on Sept. 15 at the Village Green, 5201 Oakton St.

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